The economic offences wing (EOW) of the Mumbai police has registered 95 criminal cases against real estate developers for cheating hundreds of people of several crores from 2015 to this year till date, highlighting the perpetual ordeal of homebuyers in the city.
These cases also include cases filed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) against developers.
Another 50 complaints are under preliminary inquiry with the two housing units of the EOW.
The minimum duped amount is Rs3 crore or more in each criminal case. If the amount is less than Rs3 crore then the case is registered and investigated at the respective police station.
The number of victims duped in the EOW cases is in hundreds with each case having several victims, said an EOW official. Once the complaint is received by the EOW, it takes months for officials to undertake a preliminary inquiry after which a First Information Report (FIR) is registered.
An EOW official said, “After receiving a complaint, we verify it. As part of the process, we also listen to the version of the accused person or persons. Once we establish that the intention of the builder was to cheat the buyer, we go ahead with the FIR against them.”
Most of the cases pertain to cheating by builders who accepted booking amount for flats and then failed to hand over them to homebuyers within the promised time period, EOW sources said. In such cases, the builder is booked under the Indian Penal Code and the Maharashtra Ownership Flat Act 1963 (MOFA 1963).
The major reasons cited by builders to buyers for incompletion of projects are paucity of funds, change in government rules or pending approvals from government agencies.
In addition, the EOW has filed cases related to Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) frauds where non-eligible people are added to the list by builders by forging documents.
The MHADA officials have filed cases against builders for not surrendering flats. Other cases are related to flood space index (FSI) violations and fudging of documents to claim land ownership.
An EOW official on the condition of anonymity said that a lot of preventive measures need to be taken by buyers to ensure they are not being duped.
Once a buyer is conned, it takes a very long time for him/her to recover the money from the builder.
It takes a minimum of four years for a case to disposed of in a court, said an EOW source. Staff crunch in the EOW department, said the source, is another reason for the inordinate delay in investigation.
A single EOW official handles about seven to eight cases when ideally he should be handling about two to three cases.
The EOW focusses on ensuring the accused is convicted and the money trail is established. “We always take keen interest in safeguarding interests of victims. We try to recover the money but our priority is to focus on proving the crime,” the source said.